- Associated Press - Saturday, April 17, 2021

NORFOLK, Neb. (AP) - Soon, people who may be too young to remember Johnny Carson will enjoy learning about the late comedian by touring the renovated Johnny Carson gallery at the Elkhorn Valley Museum in Norfolk.

For almost 20 years, the museum has hosted a collection of items belonging to Carson, who lived in Norfolk from 1933 until after he graduated from high school in 1943. Carson came to fame as host of NBC’s “Tonight Show,” a position he held for 30 years.

Carson and his foundation have donated millions of dollars to numerous organizations in Norfolk and the area. In 2001, museum officials asked Carson if he would donate one or two items to be included in an exhibit in his honor. A short time later, he announced he was closing his office in Burbank, California, and sending the museum all of the artifacts on display.

The Norfolk Daily News reports the original exhibit included photos, memorabilia, Carson’s six Emmy Awards and other awards, and a TV, which allowed visitors to watch clips from the “Tonight Show.” The exhibit opened in 2002.

But, after 20 years, the exhibit was showing its age. Several years ago, efforts began to raise money to redesign the space, which is the centerpiece of the museum on Queen City Boulevard.

Now, renovations are underway, and the new gallery is scheduled to open in early May.

The updated space will include many of the items from the former exhibit, as well as new artifacts provided by Carson’s nephew, Jeff Sotzing, who oversees some of Carson’s affairs.

In fact, the museum is receiving additional items frequently, said Ashley Brown, museum director. Recent arrivals include Carson’s drum set and the makeup kit that was used when he was on the show.

The gallery will be a little bit larger than the old one and will feature new display cases built by Flint Hills Design in North Newton, Kansas, which designed the exhibit. Local contractors are doing the construction and electrical work.

Carson’s Emmy Awards will be featured in a new display case, and clips of Carson’s shows will be shown on a 1960s-era television.

Although not all of the items in the collection will be on display at one time, the new exhibit will provide a more interactive experience for viewers of all ages, Brown said.

The new gallery also will include information and artifacts about Carson’s personal life, Brown said.

“We’re focusing on the man behind the persona,” she said.

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